Monday, January 28, 2013

National Retail Federation: Sales growth to slow in 2013

The National Retail Federation delivered a forecast for sales in 2013 that can best be summed up in one word: blah.
Executives at the national trade group used words such as "tepid," "sub-par" and "subdued" to describe what they see in the coming year. The group is predicting retail sales will rise 3.4 percent in 2013, down from a 4.2 percent increase in 2012.
The list of challenges the NRF enumerated is long, and familiar. The 2 point payroll tax increase lowered most people's take-home income, the fiscal cliff and possible looming budget cuts spooked many people, job growth and income growth remain slow, and the economy overall is strolling along at a leisurely 2 percent growth rate.
But although the NRF isn't exactly breaking out the champagne to celebrate, the group is also emphasizing that many companies are better positioned to deal with slow growth than they were before the start of the recession. Sales actually fell more than 3 percent in 2009, slamming retailers. Since then, many have kept leaner inventories and changed how they promote and manage their goods to avoid disastrous unplanned markdowns.
"It's still  pretty good, all things considered," said NRF chief executive Matthew Shay.
And individual sectors could do much better than the average. Discounters such as Matthews-based Family Dollar could see their sales continue to grow quickly, as people still seek to save money and look to trade down. Home improvement stores, such as Mooresville-based Lowe's Inc., are also looking forward to a year of good growth as the housing market continues to improve. While larger electronics such as big-screen TVs are struggling, small electronics such as tablets and cell phones are selling at a rapid clip.
E-commerce is also forecast to do well, growing from 14 percent of total sales last year to 18 percent of total sales this year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lowe's hiring 45,000 seasonal workers for spring rush

Mooresville-based Lowe's, Inc. is hiring 45,000 temporary workers to help staff its stores for the spring rush, the company said Tuesday.

Seasonal employees work about 20 to 25 hours a week at Lowe's stores. Lowe's also said it plans to hire 9,000 permanent part-time employees.

Spring is the equivalent of the Christmas season for home improvement retailers, that magical time when everyone is motivated to rehab their yards and finally start some of those projects they've been putting off during the frigid winter months.

Lowe's also cut back some of its full-time employees last year in favor of more flexible, part-time workers to increase staffing at busy times. The company laid off about 1,700 middle managers in its stores, or about one per location.

In its news release, Lowe's said: The permanent part-time positions include store associates focused on direct interaction and expertise for customers. Employees in the permanent positions will be scheduled to work during peak weekday shopping times.

“We are focused on providing customers with outstanding service,” said Scott Purvis, vice president, human resources, operations. “We are looking for candidates who are experienced in any of the home improvement trades, and, most importantly, those who are committed to providing Lowe’s customers an exceptional service experience.”

You can see and apply for available jobs here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Belmont Food Lion to close as Delhaize looks for growth

A Food Lion in Belmont is closing, as the company continues grappling with sluggish sales and stiff competition.

Food Lion is owned by Belgian supermarket giant Delhaize Group. The Belmont store, on Park Street, is one of several dozen stores that Delhaize said it will close last week. The company announced the closures as part of its regular earnings release.

Delhaize is also closing 34 Sweetbay supermarkets in Florida, as well as seven Food Lion locations outside the Charlotte area. Each Food Lion employs 35 to 40 people.There will be about 1,120 Food Lion locations after the most recent closures.

There were just over 100 Sweetbay locations (none in the Charlotte area), so the closings announced represent about a third of the total.

It's the second mass-closure in just over a year. Last January, the company shuttered 113 Food Lion stores, as well as six Bottom Dollar and seven Bloom stores.

Delhaize also shook up upper management at Salisbury-headquartered Food Lion late last year. The company pushed out Food Lion president Cathy Green Burns and shuffled other top managers.

The company has been trying to revitalize sales at Food Lion, its largest and best-known U.S. supermarket chain. Food Lion has refreshed and updated hundreds of its stores, including those in Charlotte, and changed its produce practices to enhance freshness.

Food Lion has been seeing its market share slip in the Charlotte region. In 2011, Food Lion fell from 19.2 percent of the market to 17.7 percent, according to data from Chain Store Guide.

Read more here:

Delhaize remains a huge company: It's 2012 sales topped $30.2 billion, up 2.9 percent from the year before. But sales at stores open a year or more in the U.S. - a key indicator of a retailer's health - slumped 0.8 percent.

And competition is likely to only get tougher: Publix is expanding north, further into Food Lion's markets, and  Wal-Mart is investing more into its grocery offerings and expanding its Neighborhood Market concept.

And all these store closings and management shakeups aren't cheap. Delhaize is taking more than $173 million worth of charges related to the latest round of store closures, and almost $20 million worth of charges stemming from the management changes, including Green Burns.

Delhaize CEO Pierre Olivier-Beckers said the latest closures will help the company. "These actions, coupled with the portfolio review announced last year, enhance the health of our store network and create a solid base on which to go forward," he said, in a statement. "We remain determined to accelerate the transformation of our business."

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Panera Bread coming to Cotswold Village

A new Panera Bread is headed for Cotswold, according to local restaurant leasing blog Restaurant Traffic.

The store is replacing Blu Basil, which closed recently. Panera has been increasing the number of stores in Charlotte, and recently opened an uptown location on College Street.

Mecklenburg building permits show the upfit for the Cotswold Village location is costing more than $180,000.

An Italian eatery, Blu Basil closed last year. Panera was founded in 1981, and has more than 1,625 stores in 44 states. The company has seven stores in Charlotte, about  Panera's stated mission is "A loaf of bread in every arm," which is also a registered trademark.

The company has been a Wall Street darling, with its stock rising from about $34 a share five years ago to $163.51  on Friday.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Cardinal Camera seeks to build on Wolf legacy at Arboretum

When Ritz Camera shut down and liquidated its operations, including the Wolf Camera stores in Charlotte, Cardinal Camera saw an opportunity.

Kurt Seelig reopened the Wolf Camera store in the Arboretum late last year as a Cardinal Camera location, and is hoping to build it into a major hub for local photo enthusiasts. Family-owned Cardinal Camera has 15 locations, and opened in 1937.

"That's really become my second-best store out of the 15," said Seelig. This Friday and Saturday, the store is holding a camera buyback event in conjunction with used-camera dealer KEH, where they'll offer cash for old cameras. Last weekend, KEH bought back $40,000 worth of old cameras in Richmond.

Seelig said he chose the Arboretum location over the Wolf Camera SouthPark store because shopping centers have lower overhead than malls.

Claire Schweitzer, who works for Cardinal Camera management but doesn't have a formal job title, said customer service is the secret to Cardinal's continued survival in the Internet age.

"I don’t make them wait, because they can go on the Internet and buy something quickly," she said of customers. "At 10 o'clock Christmas Eve I was driving a canvas to someone's house because it got misplaced."

The company does old-school services such as developing film and printing, but also carries the latest photo equipment.

"Customers are surprised," said store manager Tony Ulchar. "We still have phone calls saying 'Do you develop film?'"

And remember, the Wolf Camera at Birkdale Village has also reopened under new ownership, meaning that in the end, Charlotte only lost one of its remaining camera stores (the Wolf Camera in SouthPark) and gained two new ones.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Second Walmart Neighborhood Market coming?

Walmart could be lining up a spot in east Charlotte for its second Neighborhood Market, following on the heels of the concept's debut here late last year.

The city's first Walmart Neighborhood Market is gearing up for a grand opening on Independence Boulevard.

But an inquisitive reader let me know that a 4.72 acre site near Albemarle Road and East W.T. Harris Boulevard was acquired by Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust in October (Deed here, Java required). Property records show the land was purchased for $1.35 million. Wal-Mart also purchased the adjacent 1.7 acre parcel for $1.45 million.

The spot used to be the site of a movie theater, but that was demolished in 2006. The parcels appear to be too small to be a Walmart Supercenter, but could be the right size for a Neighborhood Market, which are about the size of a traditional supermarket.

Perhaps the most interesting detail, this same inquisitive reader pointed out, is that the Neighborhood Market on Independence Boulevard is store #4149. Property records list the parcel on East W.T. Harris as "c/o Wal-Mart's Property Tax Department (#4148-00)." And a project listed online at the Mecklenburg building permit website shows "Charlotte (Harris), NC #4148" for the address, though no permits have been issued yet.

So, you can believe in coincidences, or believe the successive numbers (4148 and 4149) likely indicate a project linked to the existing Neighborhood Market.

Walmart didn't respond to a question about whether the land they've acquired will be a new Neighborhood Market site. They currently have about 200 Neighborhood Markets nationwide, and are looking to expand the number of stores. Expanding the number of grocery stores in Charlotte could make sense for Walmart, as the company has been aggressively targeting Harris Teeter in its price comparison ads.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prom dress store open in Charlotte

Charlotte Prom, a store dedicated to selling prom dresses and renting tuxedos, is hosting a grand opening this weekend on South Boulevard with a fashion show.

The concept, co-located with New York Bride & Groom, is geared towards (obviously) high school students, and special steps are taken to ensure girls get unique dresses. Each dress sold is registered, and the store says it will only sell each dress to one student per school.

"Prom is the beginning," owner Tracy Burke said in a statement. According to the grand opening announcement, Burke believes prom is, "Much more than simply a school sponsored of the key rites of passage that helps girls blossom into ladies and boys mature into gentlemen."

The prom store has 15,000 square feet of retail space, along with a tuxedo department that features samples of available styles. Lines of designer dresses include Sherri Hill, Tony Bowls, Flirt, Blush, Paparazzi, Flaunt and Mac Duggal.

Sunday's grand opening and fashion show start at 3 p.m. A free prom dress and a free tuxedo rental will be given away at the event.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Family Dollar CEO says payroll tax hike a small challenge

Howard Levine, the CEO of Matthews-based Family Dollar, said Monday that the payroll tax increase now hitting American workers is not a major challenge for the business.

The 2 percentage point increase is the result of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, is expected to have a bigger impact on Family Dollar and other discounters' core customers. They're more likely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Analysts have said this will hurt discount retailers. Levine said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" morning program that he doesn't think the tax will be a significant drag on his company.

"We've been through many economic scenarios that were much more challenging than this one," he said, although he added the payroll tax is "certainly not a positive."

Family Dollar's core customer is typically a person whose household income is $40,000 or less per year. The company saw more "trade-down" customers during the recession, when customers with incomes between $40,000 and $70,000 switched some of their shopping to Family Dollar as they sought to save money.

Levine said the trade-down customers are still seeking out Family Dollar, although he declined to break out what percentage of the retailer's customers they are. Levine said the core customers, with under $40,000 in annual income, remain  the majority of Family Dollar's customers.

Family Dollar's latest earnings, reported earlier this month, disappointed investors and left the stock slumping as gross margin fell and the retailer lowered its forecast.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Kirkland's in Matthews

Home furnishing store Kirkland's is opening a new location in a Matthews shopping center, with a grand opening planned for the weekend of February 2.

The store is in the Ross Plaza Shopping Center on Matthews Township Parkway. The grand opening will include a giveaway of two $50 gift cards and free interior design consultations with local designer Carol Smith.

Building permits from the county show Kirkland's spent more than $360,000 renovating the building.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Savvy Spaces furniture stores closing

Savvy Spaces, a pair of furniture stores that opened last year, is closing, the retailer announced last week.

The company is holding a going-out-of-business sale to liquidate current inventory. The owners, who also operate Ashley Furniture HomeStore locations, said they are closing the Savvy Spaces locations to focus on their Ashley Furniture business.

Inside Savvy Spaces (courtesy the company)

"We’ve enjoyed wonderful growth in sales at Savvy Spaces, but in the end, we had to choose between our two brands. As owners, we simply don’t have the time to oversee and properly manage both companies," said Charlie Malouf, in a statement. He co-owns the stores with Jonathan Ishee. They're in the midst of opening a new Ashley location in Raleigh.

Furniture, clocks, rugs, bedding and other goods are all discounted now at both locations, in Pineville and the Northlake area (The Pineville location was in a former Boyle's furniture store). Rugs are 65 percent off, mattress sets over $499 are $100 off, and accessories are 50 percent off.

No final closing date has been set, and an employee said the stores will remain open until they're sold out.

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